Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) will be officially inaugurated at 8:00 pm Wednesday night, in a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
The central theme for this year’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day is "The Anguish of Liberation and the Return to Life: Seventy Years Since the End of WWII," according to Yad Vashem's website.
Planned speakers include Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, will kindle the Memorial Torch. Hana Meiri will speak on behalf of the survivors.
During the ceremony, Holocaust survivors will light six torches. The survivors are Avraham Harshalom, Dov Shimoni, Sara Weinstein, Ephraim Reichenberg, Eggi Lewysohn, and Shela Altaraz.
The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, will recite Psalms; the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, will recite Kaddish. El Maleh Rahamim, a Jewish prayer for the souls of the martyrs, will be recited by Lt. Col Shai Abramson, Chief Cantor of the IDF.
Other participants in the ceremony include singer Avraham Tal and the IDF Paratroopers’ Honor Guard.
Rivlin: Seventy years ago, tonight...
"We stand here tonight, in painful silence at Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day," Rivlin began. "Exactly seventy years since April 15th 1945, a Sunday afternoon. The day when the first British soldiers crossed the gates of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp."
"The joy of liberation was replaced by horror," he said. "The horror that was revealed before their eyes was inconceivable. In the camp, lay thousands of bodies. In March 1945 alone - a few weeks before the camp was liberated - eighteen thousand, one hundred and sixty-eight people died at Bergen-Belsen; most of them Jews, men, women and children, some of them nameless."
"Fourteen thousand people died of hunger and disease during the first five days after the camp's liberation," he noted. "In the barracks were sixty thousand men and women, most of them sick, in a serious condition."
"They could not move. They lay in the bunks, starving, thirsty, exhausted and sick. The living dead. Their families were murdered, burned, slaughtered, or disappeared," he described. "They lost everything. Each was sure they were ‘The Last Jew’."
"Their return to life seemed impossible at the time," he added. "They needed to create a new existence for themselves. To fill their empty bodies with the human spirit, instill their arteries once more with the desire for life, the ability to love, rejoice, and to renew their hope."
"How would those stumbling legs know how to walk once more? How would the bent over bodies, succeed in standing up straight? How dare the mind dream, there, in the midst of the destruction? To look out of the dark into the future. To look forward."
"The Whole World Had Gone Mad"
Rivlin then related his own story.
"I was born in Jerusalem in the month when the Second World War began," he said. "When the bolt to the gates of the death camps were opened - Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Chelmno and Majdanek, my friends and I here, we made our way to the first grade."
"The distance was so great, as it is today," he continued. "An entire sea between Jerusalem andthe killing pits of Babi Yar. Between Tel Aviv and the death marches. From Dora-Nordhausen to the selections. The round-up of local Jews. The transports. The hunger and cold. The horror and despair."
"I remember the first survivors arriving in the city of Jerusalem. Bit by bit, we were exposed to the face and magnitude of the horror. A new neighbor appeared suddenly; a teacher; a distant cousin, sad Jews muttering the Mourner's Kaddish for an entire town. Anxious for any scrap of information, weaving wiry memories and longing.
"I remember lone soldiers we met in the army, the last descendants; Freddie, who came from Hungary - and to this day I do not know his family name - three days, after arriving and being taken in by our neighbors, went off to war never to return. Slowly they began piecing together a mosaic of chilling testimonies, about a world that once was, and shall never return.
"We saw for the first time the tattooed number on their arms," he added. "At first we thought they were mad."
"Slowly we realized, that it was the world that had gone mad."
Past and Future
Rivlin then noted the function of remembrance, and the bridge between the past and the future.
"For seventy years we have, all of us, native and non-native-born, old and young, from east and west, been in a constant and unceasing tension between the past and future," he began. "Holocaust and rebirth."
"Not just today, but every day, we walk the depths of the valley, extruded between two mountains," he continued. "This mountain of memorial and remembrance, on one side and the mountain of revival and vision on the other. From where loud and varied cries emanate, sometimes contradicting one another."
"The mountain of memory, commands us, the Jewish people, to remember," he emphasized. "Remember the sounds. Remember the sights. Remember the names."
"And yet the mountain of vision and rebirth, of construction and creation, calls on us to look ahead, and step into the future. Continuing to build a magnificent country, continuing to strive to construct another world, a safe world, full of promise - for us and for future generations."
The Holocaust and the State of Israel
Rivlin then addressed Holocaust survivors, and connected their struggle with the birth of the State of Israel.
"My brothers and sisters, Holocaust survivors, heroes of revival," he began. "During this uneasy journey, you have been our 'Pillar of Fire' before the camp."
"You - who found the strength to shake off the ashes of the crematoria, and the soil drenched with tears and blood - have instructed us to select the path of life, and realize a vision. You, who have loved and laughed, who have planted an orchard, have built a national home, as well as private homes. You have guided the entire nation."
"Today, seventy years after the liberation of the death camps, we stand before you and we swear an oath, and promise, 'All of us, each and every one of us, have a number tattooed on their arm'," he said.
"Yet, at the same time and in the same breath we remember: we came from Auschwitz, not because of Auschwitz," he stressed. "We cannot let the pogroms, the bellowing smoke of the crematoria blind us or blur our abilities to recognize our past, our identity, our heritage - which are stronger than those who with destroy us."
"The Holocaust is our lowest point, the most dreadful, in Jewish history," he continued. "The moment of horror for all humanity, but the Jewish journey does not begin with it, just as it does not end with it."
"The Jewish journey begins in the Land of Israel, and it is here that it always strives to return. There are those who mistakenly think that the State of Israel is some form of compensation for the Holocaust. There is no greater mistake."
"The State of Israel is not a compensation for the Holocaust," he maintained. "The State of Israel was established, in its own right, out of a love and longing for an ancient homeland, by virtue of a dream that came true, a dream that became a reality. Not out of the fear of extinction or out of hatred of the other."
"The State of Israel, will continue its struggle against these and will not surrender. We build our future here, with open and alert eyes. We will not belittle any threats. Nor belittle, shameful statements calling for the extinction of the Jewish people. Yet, while we are prepared, we are not scared. The horrors of the past and the threats of the present, will not dictate our lives, nor shape the lives of our children. They will not dim our hopes for a future of creation and prosperity."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu then spoke.
“Seventy years ago the bells of freedom rang across the world," he began. "The terrible nightmare in Europe came to an end.”
"The victory against the Nazis was not only a day of rejoicing, it was also a terrible day of sadness [...] and a day of self-reflection to world leaders," he continued. " World leaders understood that they now had an opportunity to rebuild a society based on freedom.”
Netanyahu connected the policy of appeasement of world leaders, then in the League of Nations, to the current Iran deal - and implicated that much of the West, in this sense, has not learned from the Holocaust.
“Democracies cannot turn their eyes away from the dictatorships of the world that seek to spread their influence," he insisted. “Ahead of World War II, the world attempted to appease the Nazis. They wanted quite at any price, and the terrible price did come.”
Netanyahu said that, similarly, "nothing is being done" about Iran.
"Appeasing tyrannical regimes will only increase their aggression and is an approach that is liable to drag the world into larger wars," he warned.
The Prime Minister's speech was then interrupted several times, after Yad Vashem cut his microphone due to technical difficulties (update: 8:35 pm IST). It has since been fixed.
After the interruption, he continued, stressing the need to fight Iran now - before it is too late.
“Iranian leaders are exported death and destruction," Netanyahu thundered. "The world is not listening to the calls in Iran urging death to Israel, death to America."
“We will continue to work towards opening the eyes of the world” to Iran, he said. “Even if we will be forced to stand alone, we will not falter. We will maintain our right to defend ourselves… we will not let the state of Israel become a passing phase in the history of our nation.”
Netanyahu then stated that he views preventing another Holocaust as his "personal responsibility," echoing comments he made in a meeting with a Holocaust survivor Wednesday afternoon.